Another year, another NESCBWI spring conference for the books (pun intended). This is the sixth time I’ve attended the conference, and every time I go I leave with something new. This year I left with a variety of things packed in my bag, and I don’t mean the books from the bookshop or the free toiletries from my room. We’re allowed to take the hairdryer right? No? Oh well. I’m talking new tools so that I can become a better writer. Things like becoming a possible Scrivener convert. Thank you Dee Romito. Realizing it isn’t as difficult to make my own swag as I once thought using Photoshop Express. Thank you AC Gaughen. But my biggest “ah ha” moment came from Harold Underdown’s class on revision. This is where I was able to finally understand a critique I received from JaneYolen a year ago by connecting it with what I learned in Harold’s class. Yes, some times it does take me that long to learn something. Just ask my wife. Actually don’t do that.
During a critique Jane added a few words sporadically through my manuscript and removed others there by strengthening the story. At the time I didn’t truly understand why the story sounded better. I just knew it did. It wasn’t until Harold’s class did it finally make sense. He started talking about writing for a response, which is using words or the lack there of to invoke a response in your reader. This is more than the age old writers’ mantra, “show don’t tell”. This is about creating an emotional response or leaving room for an emotional response. The words that Jane added as well as removed in my manuscript did exactly that. It was lightning striking my brain. I also figured out what was missing from a story I am currently working on, but even better, how to fix it. Does that mean this story will soon be published? Of course not, but at least now I have the tools to work on it.
Finally, I rounded out the conference with what surprisingly became one of my favorite workshops. It was titled, Writing Prompts for the Weary, run by Burleigh Muten. It was a simple course. She gave us prompts such as an object or a sentence and we wrote whatever we wanted. One of the prompts, which I will pair down and be taking into school visit workshops with me, was a particular favorite. I was amazed at how it inspired me to write, even after three days of writing intensives and two nights of “bar intensives”. She gave us a list of short phrases:
Then she said write.
I will admit for the first minute I thought this was going to be dumb. Staring at “I am” and asking myself, “Well? What are you?” Can be daunting. That is until you get out of your own way and simply answer the question.
I am a builder of stories
I wonder what I’ll write?
I hear the letters jumble in my head as they take form.
I see the shape, the meaning, each word’s truth.
I want to ignore them. Truth can be hard.
I am tired
I pretend the words are gone. But
I feel their weight as they build in my thoughts.
I touch the pen, the paper, it’s cool relief.
I worry I won’t do the words justice and they will stay where they are.
I cry onto the page tears of nouns, adjectives, an occasional adverb.
I am sawing my structure. Each line becomes leaner.
I understand the architecture.
I say the feeling. I feel the words.
I dream of its pointed spire.
I try for the truth.
I hope for understanding.
I am a builder of stories. I am a writer.
So again I thank all those who had their hands in putting together this conference. From the Coordinators, Josh Funk and Sera Rivers, to the faculty and volunteers who are too numerous to mention. Great job! And I’m already looking forward to next years.